Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saira Mclaren

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Saira's Williamsburg studio.
Working on unprimed linen, Saira first soaks her surface in water and she then allows the fabric dye to seep into the linen. Saira's use of the soak and stain technique shares a history with the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.  Frankenthaler is largely credited with having invented the soak and stain technique, but the technique had been used in watercolor painting for hundreds of years beforehand. Watercolors are such an old medium that even the cave paintings at Lascaux were painted using watercolor. One can only imagine the great difficulty that those poor troglodytes encountered  when they first began utilizing the soak and stain technique on rock!!!
This is one of Saira's newest paintings, which was still in progress when I visited. Saira uses gravity to manipulate the paint, which is also similar to the way Morris Louis handled paint, however  Louis removed his hand completely, and was reducing painting to its inevitable conclusion after Pollock. Saira reintroduces the artist's hand and vacillates between both translucency and opacity. Saira's background in film is revealed through her paintings. When looking at Saira's transparent screens of color, I think of Stan Brakhage's Abstract Expressionist films. 
Not only did Stan Brakhage introduce Abstract Expressionism to film, he was also responsible for teaching South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker while they were in film school at the University of Colorado. I had a friend at the Art Institute who used to gush over the marvelous colors that South Park uses. Although I have always been a fan of the show, I somehow was not enough of a cognoscenti back then to appreciate South Park's exquisite palette!
I do however love the palette used in this gem!!! This was my favorite painting in Saira's studio and I got to keep it!  I traded her a kitten for it. Curiously enough, I didn't notice the face emerging from the paint until I brought it home!
Saira's method is gestural, improvised, and intuitive. There is always a sense of freedom surrounding work that is as process based as Saira's. By relinquishing a certain amount of control and  allowing the paint to take on it's own life, Saira gives free reign to chance and accident. The fluidity and ease found in Saira's paintings is also a result of the spontaneous manner in which they are made.

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